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Rachel Swarns Education. (2012) 'American Tapestry The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,' by Rachel Swarns.

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Chicago 24, Us 10, Phoebe 5, Thomas Dewey 3, Schaumburg 3, Virginia 3, America 3, Langston Hughes 2, Southside 2, Michelle Obama 2, Rachel 2, Mrs. Obama 2, Robert Gavin 2, South Carolina 2, North Carolina 2, Alabama 2, New York 2, Harlem 2, Chuck Todd 1, Newberry 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Rachel Swarns  Education.  (2012) 'American Tapestry The  
   Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of...  

    September 1, 2012
    9:00 - 10:15am EDT  

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it's about an hour and 10 minute. [applause] >> good evening. welcome to the schaumburg center. it's a real pleasure and delight your job easier, rachel and to have all of you here on this
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lovely summer evening and i think it's been hot out there, so brace yourselves for summer will now depend upon us. ribeiro special treat in store for you as you probably read and heard in recent days about this new book, "american tapestry," we learn a lot about metal in the first lady, but the first country. i look forward to hearing more about the process of writing the book of the things rachel would like to share the early animated something that we do our e-mail. soon she began, i think what the audience probably doesn't know is that you have a lot of support, kind of a community behind the scenes players that contributed to this book and starting with the genealogist,
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certain institutions, fellowship , maybe just to get started, talk about maybe the genealogy of the book itself and how we arrived at this amazing story. >> you know, i wrote a story in october 2009 about the first lady's family with a colleague of mine and that became the genesis of this book. i am a generalist. this is my first book, so this is a new experience for me. >> congratulations. a >> thank you. [applause] and really when i set out to do this, i kind of had this notion of okay, i am working on a deep dive into the first lady's family and into american history. i knew it was going to take some time. i knew he didn't have that much time. i was going to do my best. i did get a lot of support,
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which was wonderful. i took in the end, two years to report, research and write the book in there so many people who helped me. several universities, catholic university helped me. they gave me a research assistant in some office space. i have some to children. office space is critical. the wilson center in washington d.c. -- other than washington d.c. also provided me with space and support. the fletcher fellowship kept me going when i was taking a little longer than i'd hoped towards the end. and then really called upon experts in the field. i was doing something quite ambitious, taking her grandparents over the first lady's grandparents and taking them as far back as i could take them. so really i was looking at very different periods in american history. and i reached out to the vexed experts in the field during each
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of those spirits to kind of put me in the right direction. >> i wanted everyone to year that because first of all it speaks to how important institutions aren't supporting research and writing, that these books don't just come out of the imagination of talented writers comment that institutions like the schaumburg center, as well as the smithsonian. >> that's right. the smithsonian also helped me. there were countless people and made a difference. >> chicago newberry as well. >> i did a lot of research there they were enormously helpful. >> rachel knows amanda you didn't use the schaumburg, but i want to make a shameless plug. our senior researcher and writer who introduced us wrote a book in the title of which is fighting for america: black soldiers, the unsung heroes of
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world war ii. and i am letting you know, but also letting the audience because it's in her bibliography. so we are represented in this story. you talked a little bit about the structure of the book. and i'm curious. it is a book that unfolds in reverse. the chronology begins with the arrival of all four sets of michelle obama's grandparents. and so it goes back in time. tell us why you organize the book in that way. posted in marketing decision in terms of what the reader might take us the most compelling aspect of this narrative before moving back to slavery? >> you know, when i started thinking about the structure of the book, it occurred to me that actually part of what i do this we are looking for a white
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ancestry hidden in her family tree. ms welcomed the story of so many generations of people who emerged from slavery. and i thought to myself, we actually know where this story and, with michelle obama, you know, the first african-american first lady in the white house. but the question is where it began. it's a little unorthodox. i don't know when i started doing it how well it would work, but i thought i would roll back. i also thought that because there is so much silence over the generations come and i kind of peeling back the layers in hearing the little bits and pieces people knew and what they didn't know, that that would give you a sense of just the reverberations that slavery had over time and that you're the kind of drawn to this beginning. >> silence.
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i think that's one of the most consistent teams in the book, the painfulness at this past. it starts in the way in which he tell the story perhaps is your own way of easing the reader into that moment, the moment of the terrible moments, this unfolding legacy that begins with the slave girl, a six-year-old slave girl. i was thinking about the context of the timing of this work is so of course there is the first lady and that really speaks volumes to why this book exists, but i also wondered if the work of the thomas jefferson and sally hemming american controversy published in 1997 comes a story of one of the founding fathers relationship with his wife cousin and his slaves or enslaved mistress. i wonder if that were not for
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that work, would this have been a more difficult story to tell? would it be harder for our collective imaginations to wrap our heads around the deeply significant fact i've been the launch of humanity represented by this mixture of european, african and native american? >> i think it is certainly helpful to me in the sense that there is a framework that people have in their heads about what this kind of situation might be like. for michelle obama's family, it was quite different in a lot of ways. but i think in some ways the discussion has been ongoing and i think that was a vital part of that. >> so you've described this as a hard history. what do you mean by that?
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>> i think it's hard for people to talk about. i think it's the idea of a young girl, you know, maybe 14, 15, 16, and being malia and the end i someone in her owner's family. actually in the researcher was quite clear to me that this extended post to wife and blacks and sometimes people would rather look away. and in some of conversations with said vince, white and black, it was interesting because even we in contemporary times, you know, when the 21st century. these are people who know this history. we all do. but sitting by my side and having this conversation were
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not always easy. these are not only the sundance is to me, you know, in the end this person decided that they didn't want to be identified in the book. i said you know, mrs. obama has said that slaveowners, the blood of slaveowners enslaves run through her veins and she accepts that. and this person said yes, but we were on the wrong side of history. she's not. and it seems like a long time ago. and it is obviously more than 140 years ago. but it's not that long ago. >> a not so long ago in fact because you were able to work with two cousins, to very distant cousins, one black woman, one white woman. the minstrel parkway and showed trouble who didn't know they were elated to me that as a result of your research and
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reaching out to them, they assisted in the process. tell us about your relationship to god and their relationship to this book in its history. >> part of what's interesting to me is to have a contemporary narrative running through the historical narrative. at that really what this book is about as the sweep of american history and i liked the idea of modern-day people grappling with the. these two women i basically was trying to find if i could identify the waiting fester in our family tree. we thought that it was probably someone in the slaveowners family. so i searched for as many descendents of the the slaveowner as i could and as many descendents of noah videos biracial son. and the conversations were very interesting and i went back and ordered to see these women and other people in the family. and they were older women who
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really wanted to know. and even though they knew what they would find out might not be easy. >> how certain members of the shields family reject the story? or has it been kind of universal? the shields family being the lineage represented by the former slaveowner. >> or mixed feelings about the research. some people really wanted to have nothing to do with that and some people were open to its entry debate is now pointing to the public. and then there were some people who are just coming to know, this is history. so it was a real range. and there were times when actually you i was played into that kind of conversation. i'm a journalist and we are
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object to it. we try and hold ourselves at every move, but i remember thinking as i'm going to interview some of these defendants, are they going to look at me, a black woman, and wonder? i asked one of them, doesn't make a difference? she said in a way it does. i think -- i think in this person's view, there was for the most good and even today she felt like she was on one side and i was on the affair. >> do you think that -- i spent a lot of time talking about the importance of african american history, both of which are in many ways representative of the disinvestment in the humanities,
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disinvestment in the arts of the favor of congress with science and technology. this strikes me -- you just had a the context of the book and the need for untold stories for dark secrets is indicative of the kind of historical illiteracy that exists in our country and the african american history come history itself may be that such a is most unknown or erased from our collective conference. you'd think that is illiteracy contributes to our present anything to our feature? do you see the larger story that you tell here as essential to your vision of the country we are to live in? >> i don't know that i thought about it in that way. but i definitely thought about
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was how reflective her family was that the american story. and i wanted very much to and view it with a history so that people can see that her family had front row seats to some of the most important moments in our history, slavery, civil war, emancipation, migration, jim crow, depression and steps back were reflective of who we are. so i think i thought about it like that. >> will actually i was wondering if you thought of it as a smaller project when you began. not that he would not have to put in context the individuals that make up her family tree and do you see scrolling behind us. but it strikes me in the writing
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of the boat that became the social history. a social history of black life, both rural and urban, both southern and northern. it was sweeping and it was intimate. i'm just wondering, does that scale have been as a result of the actual research? when you put pen to paper, fingertip to keyboard, you thought this was much more than i thought it would be when i set out to do this. >> i think that i always had an idea that her family was reflect to, but when you're in a company becomes something else. and one of the things as a practical matter and when they back this far, you don't have the voice says to bring the story to life. some is our history. people say what about letters and journals? will if you have people who were
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barred from reading and writing, and those records don't exist in the historical record don't capture as much as you would like. so i realized well, i have to get contemporaneous characters from that. , from all of these. periods to bring it to life. and i'm sure that i thought about that, of kind of weaving those stories of the people of the time into it. >> what he did very good job. >> thank you. one of the reviews to make light of the fact issue are heavy on the conditional tone. and i wondered if that was something you are conscious of, dissents is speculative prose, maybe this happen. it seems that we don't know for sure. all of those turns of phrase that for you as a writer is evidence of our responsibility
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with some certainty that such and such happened. did you struggle with this at all in the writing process? >> i did actually. there's a lot less than there was. so i think, you know, i am a journalist and actually when you're writing a book, is quite different from writing a newspaper article that we want to it almost every sentence attribute and say very specifically, i know this, but i don't know that. and also to, i think there was a desire that i had and that i thought the reader would have to put yourself in this person's shoes and to feel and to imagine there's a power in that. i know that i can't know.
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and there's a power and things that we will never know. and they think of is that they wanted to be very careful about what i could say them but i couldn't say, and also wanted to bring people to the place. >> the power of not knowing or not attempting to say with certainty is reflective of what makes history history and not a social science social science report. there's very few statistics. you have some demographics about the migration in chicago and other places, but that mimics the process of writing history so exciting because of his son and. there are spaces that we have to imagine what actually happened. so i want to applaud you for writing as an historian as opposed to someone who could only say things that is matched
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by a strict adherence to evidence. >> sometimes you would find that what she thought her people aside was not exactly working tv. and some of that as a journalist you think they said that anna wasn't this way. when my instincts was a great grandmother had a stepfather and he was a remarkable man who ran away from slavery come and join union army, just a remarkable man. paglia suter because the last awake and aware. so i went to the archives and found his civil war, military record and the civil war pension and there was a medical file. the man had two legs.
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and i thought what do i do with that? and i thought, but you know, this is the kind of man who made you think that was possible. he was the kind of man who is bigger than life. and of course he would've lost his leg in the war. [laughter] >> speaking of war as a source of evidence for the lives of those war records, there is this one beautifully written passage and i want to read a first of all because it reflects how beautiful the prose is in the book, but his son hopefully this book matches the advance copy that i have. yes, it does. so i'm going to read this passage just to get you all excited about when you pick up the book, but it also raises the question just about how you discover things in certain
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records that may have surprised you. so here she writes, this is about stevie and james. how does the marriage come undone? sometimes it starts at the slow unraveling, with the fray of the countless tiny threads that bind people together or with words as tiny as pinpricks that fester instead of healing. their abiding words hurled like daggers and unbearable silence not at the heart. somehow over time the small intimacy that once enmeshed husband-and-wife touch, laughter, conversation seemed to vanish. in the distance between lovers, whether across the kitchen table when they are bed so achingly wide that it seems impossible to bridge. precisely what happened between
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james and phoebe is hard to decipher, partly because they historical records for phoebe and her family tag your are somewhat contradictory and partly because phoebe, who was proud and private appears to have clung to her old habit of keeping quiet about her troubles. that's really beautiful. he discovered in one of the marriages actually and i believe it was fraser leaves the family, goes off to war. what is the right? what does he say to the army? >> key, fraser came from south carolina, the golden boy of this small town and goes off to chicago to the big-time and lands lands in the depression and then struggled, struggled,
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struggled, got married, had two children and things fell apart. and he left hisfamily, in my state in the paperwork reads from his enlistment, where he describes his marital status, separated, no dependence and he had children. >> i wondered what you felt like in that moment as a researcher when you saw it. it would've been hard to share with the consent is. >> it was hard to share with the descendents. >> he ultimately went back home and he rejoined his family as if he had never laughed. his son told me he came back from the war and there was a little bit of fear, world war ii years of integration. each of the void out. and then one day they came in and he was reading his newspaper in the chair, just like he had
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never laughed in that never spoke of it. >> so you mentioned chicago. and you party type about how all the bond johnson, pernell shields and repackage a coleman, two names because she was raised by her and fanatical rather than her parents. so what was so exciting about chicago? i mean, here we are in harlem is an audience full of new yorkers. share what that's why chicago was such an important -- >> a man who has no bias about chicago. >> why chicago is such an important place in our story. >> chicago was where it was all happening. and really was one of those big cities where people were charred to go to. one of the most fascinating record sources i found were these letters of migraines that
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one of the journals collected as people and the 1900s who are looking for places. in the chicago defender, the black newspaper der played a role in encouraging the migration and people wrote things like looking for a place, you know, this kind of work for that kind of work that one of the letters that struck me, which i think i quote i was looking for a place where i can be a man or a black man can be treated like a man. people thought that in this place it was a segregated, not like he was in the south. you can go to integrated schools, vote there. and you could make a real living wage. it was a huge vibrant social or religious life there. i was going to say that when michelle obama's ancestors got back from the southside to show
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he finishes this site a sad your ssi guy, it looks nothing like a day. her great-grandmother, martin johnson arrived in chicago sometime around 19 awake when the southside was predominately white. >> so there is a renaissance story that is the chicago renaissance. i want to read your description of that because given how important the harlem renaissance is posted to history, cultural history of african-americans as those political history, it still imagine that the world is once described a makkah of america. he described a renaissance this way. you say pronounce true passion was a percussive and syncopated with them that had become the soundtrack of the burgeoning southside. he was handy with the drums himself and there was no better place to be in the 1920s and chicago, the epicenter of the
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nations blues and jazz recording industry. >> what was lovely about writing about chicago in that time was how many luminaries were there. so i could quote langston hughes wandering through chicago or the re-armstrong and his first days playing there. there's a lot of important people going to chicago then. >> and just to affirm, to repair the damages of my local audience, langston hughes, this auditorium was named for langston hughes and he certainly spent many, many years here at the library doing research, contributing original pieces of work to our collection. sylvia sidney benefit from this life and his legacy. chicago also had a dark side and there is a slide that i would like to turn to that will illustrate a little bit of that. part of this history, what makes
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this a hard story is the racial violence, the abuse, the forward and backwards that the movement of african-americans from slavery to freedom. it turns out that chicago wasn't so different than the south after all in some unexpected ways of those ancestors of michelle obama. and i want to just sort of think of out about something historians called southern exceptionalism and that is the way in which we remember this path through the charred memories of jim crow, slavery and that even today the 21st century, a collective imagination of a racism really is, what it was really about, the harm that it really did this about everything that happened below the mason dixon line, not in places like new york.
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now new york was no better, but if you live in des moines, iowa, if you live elsewhere in the heartland you may not think the north had any part in this post-emancipation story. this is a slide from the chicago race riot of 19 named team. here you see the police arriving on the scene of a job lot and he's been literally stoned to death after he her 10-year-old boy had been murdered at a beach because he swam across an aqueous color line. many people lost their lives. many african-americans ended up homeless. this is the culminating moment. any idea like that racially integrated type park that is not the home of the first family that bombs are going off two years before this happens. what is going on in chicago? >> it was fascinating when i
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read this, the b. button, michelle obama's great grandmother. she lived not far from where the abundance of today. someone had recommended to me the chicago commission study of the race riot. and when i was going through there and i discovered these bombings, african-americans moving into hype park and then move them out. and i realized, my goodness. >> it was in part of the conversation. >> it was remarkable. and i can remember now exactly how many there were. >> about 58. >> to begin before and continue to have dirt. and again, i don't know -- >> was very plain activity and had parklike
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>> there is a really striking time. it was the first i knew, but i didn't know about that. and in talking to mrs. obama's relatives, i learned that phoebe had talked about it, that when the violence of the rise was sweeping the city, she was by herself. her husband traveled. he was the minister and was often away. and she got a powerful of water and why and oiled it on the stove and said she was ready if it swept into her home. andy was the first time. it was interesting to really be placed daring to really thayer. >> that part of the book in some ways really does use one because by the time you get to the reconstruction violence he described, you sort of already -- i would say your non, that anything is possible at
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that point. a "new york times" reviewer said of michelle's ancestors that they were, and i quote, all people who own no property, left no writings. there is is mostly a bitter tale full of abandonment, early death, poverty, or fins and illiteracy. dennis also an occasionally sweet story of church, home buying business, and wedding. is that entirely correct? >> i wouldn't say that. it is part history as i've said. but i think one of michelle obama's and set its best for me when looking back on this and i asked them, how did they get by? and she said their american dream is to trim a little at a time. and they did hear they got married. one of the things that was wonderful to read about was this
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period of time after slavery ended when michelle obama's great, great, great grandmother and great, great, great grandfather in virginia lined up the scores of other people to have their marriage legalized. and this is happening all across the south. so many things were meaningful happening to people. and it was hard, but they seized with a coed and they moved forward. >> just to press the point a little bit more, there are business owners, property owners. and there's a college president, howard johnson. >> is that right? >> part of it is true. obviously all of what he described was true, but i think there was a lot more. i don't think that -- i didn't
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come away feeling worn down by the bleakness of it. i found it inspiring what people made up their lives despite everything and they did quite a lot. >> just to practice .1 step further, it struck me in reading it that by reducing the complexity because in a passage like that, and 750 word book review, it gives the impression that this is a kind of usual story, which is that it's all struggle and strike and these passing moments of brightness, but doom and gloom. >> as a person who writes about terrible things in the past, trust me well aware of how bad things get. but i thought, major story come is so rich and enveloping was that i'm making story within a
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broad sweeping context we were able to see the complexity. we were able to learn about individuals. we didn't have to read the text but version of this moment. we knew people by their names. we need their children, knew their parents. someone like howard johnson timmy sticks out more as representative of the complexity of this moment, rather than what is conveyed in that point. and i just made me wonder that may be that way in which we simplify a story like this will reduce the complexity is itself a product of the history and a lack of knowledge. and we are get able to appreciate the complexity of this history. >> to me, complex is great. i don't think they are rarely black and white in life. >> no pun intended. >> is lots of gray, lots of things we know and don't know. that's really part of the richest of life, even in our day to day life and i really wanted
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to capture that and to tell a story that was sweeping and historical, but was really humid. these people are very, very human and how they live their lives. i wanted people to connect to that. i didn't want to be simple or easy. >> so one of these really credible carrot or simply to go back a little bit, maybe to the third slide. i'm just going to reduce the amount that because he's quite a character. so i think i'll go forward one. that's fine. so a doll says theodore shield. a doll says theodore shields, his mama come the life he led, 91 quick >> their preachings in that family. >> you live to be 91.
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i'll read your description of him because they think first of all it gives us a little bit of a flavor for who he was and now he's received in the world, but also he's a perfect illustration of a person who literally came of age. he's born in 1859. is that correct? i think that's what she put in the book. >> eastbourne. he is the first generation of the race and he goes on to do amazing things, precisely out of his opportunity. but there is a lot of -- there is a lot that isn't clear at the moment of the reconstruction. so i want to talk a little bit about the fact that we can't let that can see this as a story of white supremacy simply is always there. it's always defining and limiting, but there are cracks
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that a doll face is able to exploit them. he described them as something of a ladies man. he was strikingly handsome. maybe that's not the best -- with piercing brown eyes and apple i knows, olive skin and an irrepressible sense of confidence, most of him in france for sharecroppers, farmers and who scrambled into sandy, red clay fields. they rejoice in slavery ended, but the promise of freedom had withered like spring grass steered by the summer sun. he might've even remember the chatter about a man who is giving them fair skin in basic that lips, but kept in a careful distance, never claiming publicly for quoting him with legitimacy. its office had been a slave to an enslaved teenage girl and a man whose identity he may have never known. so edolphus mr. birmingham, alabama in 1880.
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now we think of birmingham, alabama today is beyond one hand and ultimately the wrong materials and the most significant manufacturing industry in this country's 20th century and i'm somewhat taking the pulitzer prize-winning book of 2009. pss it's also of course an iconic for the children's crusade in 1963, but what is he able to do in birmingham and and a way that challenges what we think about this. >> he did not want to be a farmer here and he did not want to be a sharecropper. this was a place that our land was fabricated.
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we think about birmingham is the most representative -- but when he first appears in the sense this is a homeowner had white neighbors ended with him in, not the time and give us a place for someone who wanted to make his mark outside the field could do that. >> so he buys property. another property owner. >> and if you find them between you and make in -- >> yeah, make and found office. >> a sound victory churches. so he really is an amazing character and framed store does -- it becomes for you one of the most distant relatives who has asserted the amazing story and they can see canada find people you interview, so tell us a little bit about what you've learned, how you were able to write about his life.
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>> one of the amazing things with being able to find people who actually knew melvin mia, a woman born into slavery in 1834. i found two people who knew her, which is even now remarkable. and the reason why that is possible is that she lived in extraordinarily long life. she died at around 1938 and these two people also lived in extraordinarily long life. unfortunately, both of them have since died. so imagine. i'm going to meet these people actually and talk to them. i thought my goodness, what am i going to find? at thought this is what is research is like in reporting this site. they were great except they were teenagers at the time when she was in her 90s. and so, the things that i kind of was dying to know what not the kinds of things they're
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interested in at that time. they did give me a really wonderful window of her life in this town of kingston and northern georgia where she worked as a midwife. these people also knew all face in his younger, henry, who had a bit of say -- who had a complicated relationship themselves. and they talk about the questions in the community about who the fathers of these clearly very late children of the stark when and where and how no one else has questions. >> i wondered in both doll faces own personal narrative in your description of him and you are describing the history of the way that skin color mattered. i wonder if there was a form of racial profiling in that.
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and here i don't mean in criminal justice or policing. but in a way, i wonder if there's time period in the 19th century, the sense of identifying a person's racial heritage. there is a niche across the color line was even more sophisticated than it is today. is that something for you because you write about and i also wonder for people of that generation were by virtue of time who had a white ancestry. we can go in the audience right now and see the amazing rainbow of color. color simply doesn't matter. the rainbow doesn't matter because it's really just a binary by the time jim crow was fully entranced.
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in the late 19th century, there is this fluidity of what i like to say, the racial radars that were sensitive to the nuances, the color demonstrated or that features demonstrated. was that something we've looked back at the moment and that these people were hot even more sophisticated than we are today in terms of the way we assign moral values based on race? >> one of the questions i did ask myself was whether or not people did sort of assume when it happened based on what edolphus looked like. part of the reason perhaps they didn't ask is if you were looking at someone who would than a slave and been like that, they had an idea of what might have happened. i think in this day and age,
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wherein this. of, you know, so much immigration, increased interracial marriage. people are embracing multi-racialism, check as many boxes as you like them or think of it as a very unique. , but back then, in 1890 there were 1.1 million people classified as mixed-race and of course the sense is that 5 million categories for people -- >> kick gave assisted in relocated harbored and assisted with something like 13% i did decide as mixed-race or mulatto come and determined that time. they just made me wonder to what extent they knew better, that here we are at the end of the 21st century and we still have -- we still attachable categories of humanity based on
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the simple designation of a black person versus a white person. that still means a lot in this country and how we support the country that we live in, whether it's public programs, education, whether it's our criminal justice system function, we passed a lot of judgment and would organize life and very powerful and often destructive ways based on simple binary contemplations. we have the whole system when targeting young black men regardless of the rainbow colors they represent. there is a fluidity here than in some ways someone is able to exploit. i guess what i read is that whites could read that, too. they shared a lineage whether they wanted to embrace it or not
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is an entirely different dori. i wanted to finish with two things. one, you describe a very powerful main page, the certified savage jim crow. and it made me think about reconstruction as a period that perhaps we don't really talk enough about because it is this moment of tremendous achievements for the first generation of formerly enslaved people. you describe the tens of thousands of people in south carolina are disenfranchised by new sets of laws. just two decades before coming with something like 1500 african-americans serving across the country is local, state and federal as the 14 congressmen, lieutenant governors. it's really powerful. for the keynote tremendous opportunity, promise and the
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future, the same moment of indeterminacy and so much changes so quickly. makes me think about her own moment and wonder how fragile his progress. >> when i was at the newberry, i was looking for michelle obama's ancestors voting records. one of the things those curious as to whether could find out who was the first person in her family to go. it was a hopeless question, but i was then the library, a bubbly library in chicago and i stumbled across a book that had voter registrations from the 1860s from north carolina. and i look did not look and no jumpers. and i thought, my father, he's from north carolina. pairwise, my great, great, great
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grandfather who in 1867, 40 years old registered to vote. approved as a voter. i don't know if you voted or not. we certainly know what happened later. we know that that moment is people seizing hold of democracy and participation was going to end for him and his children. but that moment, that was something. >> not only is that moment something, but it reminds -- her story reminds us in the way you tell your story reminds us that whatever we think at the moment we are and, whatever the first family represent in terms for moving past the racial divide of
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the 20th century. and everyone doesn't agree, just to be clear. there's huge differences both inexperienced in terms of being black in america today and also perception. whatever you think of it, one of the most powerful questions your book demonstrates is if you believe there is progress, then you want to protect it. this story really does show us how fragile, whether it is the challenges of racial violence in chicago for aspiring migrants who expected better of their new home for the demise of political power and participation in the wake of the emergence of jim crow. it strikes me that in this moment we had to be very vigilant about whatever gains we've made. >> i also think though that it inspired me that people, where they could come and they
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striving. i said too much about striving, too. that was one of the things he said. but i think that people took the space that there was and did the best they could. and i think that's meaningful. >> well, i want to finish. i said there'd be two points. that was the first. that can come you mentioned your fellowship, voting. i wanted to mention -- we have decided to go to maybe 12 or 13. so mary, phoebe's mother is born in something like 1835, 1836. this by the weight is joe brady and john tribble, the distant cousins who were instrumental in connect and family and different sources. next slide. fraser robinson, these are michelle obama's parents. little michelle on the left and craig robinson and brother on the right.
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next slide. so this unknown here, who does not appear in the book is a contemporary of mary. so they were born roughly a year apart. he's a mississippi farmer who is noted in 181870s sensors as a 35-year-old who was part of a sensors track that includes a woman named betty wore. betty wore and robert gavin had a child named henry. could you go to the next site? salonga census records from 1870 mississippi, at the last name is at the top in the left corner and you see the household is to
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cut down for land to see robert l. 34, white farmer. calm down and she is 31, lack farmer, both from virginia, all the way down i know it's not so easy to see there's a henry, for names of. next slide. they are henry shows up in an 1800 cents is. now he is 32 years old. henry, a if you follow down, has one, two, three lines down to eugene sun, black. 10 over 12 meters 10 months old. that eugene gavin is my great grandfather. now go back to slide. robert gavin, my great, great, great grandfather was a white mississippi planter who always thought in the confederacy. go figure.
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so it seems than that this is emblematic, that this really is an american type or street and that you really all do share in some way this legacy and michelle obama story. i wanted you to have the last word about what more we are to make a bit of what we might tell our children about this history and about disconnectedness in spite of all of the ugliness in many uncomfortable ways. >> i think we should talk about it. it's hard to talk about, but the reverberations are many and i think i'm a communicator, a writer, so maybe i put too much emphasis and hope the dialogue. but i do think talking about helps in understanding the
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history helps. and i hope that interest in michelle obama's family might bring a little interest in this history, too. >> great, well we have fellow plotter in just a moment. well, you can applaud her. [applause] still have another opportunity, but now it's your turn. so anyone who has a question or comment, but please don't offer both. so if you would like to say some income you can have your moment. the microphone is opening. if you have a question, please keep it brief. anyone? this is a first at the schaumburg. surely someone has a question.
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>> i'm going to wait for someone to come behind me. and others went in one. >> you can get started. >> is truly an honor. i haven't had a chance to say that personally to you, doctor, on your position here. i want to make a comment, question. >> of course. >> this has really taken me to another level were i can begin to understand what i need to do to calm down a lot of the stuff happening today from yesterday. i shared the franklin shelter in the bronx and if i don't get back in time and going to lose my dad. i talked to the director, then told her drivers coming year. i needed a late pass. i want to know when you have stuff like this, and i'm not going to boogie down club and i
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never really was a boogie down are saying, why homeless people are penalized for this is so relative. this ties into the salvation army started in 1865 who ran for shelter. you get the picture. so how do we -- you know what i'm saying, help homeless people get involved, come out to the shelter both of you. and i'm not going to say punch them in the nose, and they set it aside anger. it can reduce in the near there's so many people who want to come out as they need to hear those. >> thank you. [applause] >> i was a first about all thank you for coming. thank you for coming. [applause] and i can't speak to that issue,
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but i don't know. >> ought to say we live in a punitive society and the incentive to change that society runs through being able to embrace and russell the the origins of inequality in this country. so if you think that people get what they deserve, if you think poverty is clearly a function of individual choice of self-destructive behavior and bad decisions, that you have no appreciation for someone trying to understand that the world with a thin, especially when it comes to a history that implicates the society and not about the individual. so i applaud you also for being here. i'm glad you raised an issue in the space so that others might think about some thing that they might not ever know, which is how difficult it is to participate in a forum like
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this, given your situation. again, thank you for bringing this to our attention. >> i want to thank you for writing such a wonderful book and writing it in the way. i haven't read a cat, but what she described in writing it in the way that she did. ..
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>> and do you see that we need to be as strong as our ancestors in seeing clearly the underlying pretext and motives, and be as strong as they were and our elders in pursuing and keeping the rights that we have gained from the '60s on? [applause] >> there's been quite, um, a discussion, you know, in the states about this. the justice department, as you know, has been vigorously looking into these instances.
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i feel like looking back into history is useful both, we often think about the civil rights movement in particular because it's more recent, but back to those people who voted and held office in the 860s and '70s -- 1860s and '70s. those things matter, and we do need to be vigilant in a democracy always about our rights as citizens of all stripes. i think it matters. >> i would completely agree. and i think that that's, you know, some people might say that we're in a period that might call for a third reconstruction. [laughter] precisely because of the backsliding that is unfolding right as we speak. thank you. >> i want to thank you for writing the book. i teach the douglass narratives, the second one is my bondage and
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my freedom. and many that book he says that there was -- in that book he says there was a law that no one could say if a slavemaster had raped an african woman. so do you know if that law became a custom or pattern on both sides, that we just wouldn't discuss it? that's my first question. and the second one is, what is the premise of your book? and is it considered journalism or history? because barbara chase -- [inaudible] took the sally hemings jefferson story and made a novel from it. so i want to know the category that you would place your book in and, third, would you come to our -- [inaudible] program -- [laughter] at my school? be. >> it is history. i'm a journalist, so it is history. it's nonfiction. and your first question again -- oh, about the -- i want today go back to -- wanted to go back to your historical question first. i had not heard that.
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i do know it was not be considered a crime to rape a black woman. that i know. but i had not heard about that. and the premise of the book really was to tell the story of the first lady's family and her ancestry as far back as i could take it and in so doing, tell us a little bit about ourselves. >> how about coming to our women's -- [laughter] >> we can talk after. >> thank you. >> hi. i'm harriet cole, and i'm so happy to be here. i learned from dawn davis -- >> a wonderful woman, my editor. >> your editor. and i had the good fortune of working in a leadership role at ebony when the obamas decided to step into the race. and at the point at which michelle obama -- where there
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was a turn and she suddenly became, you know, the black woman shaking her neck, she was doing a story with ebony, and i was, i interviewed her. and we had a half hour. and the last question is always -- [inaudible] she said, yes. she said, i want you to come to chicago, walk down the street i grew up on, interview my mama and my friends. because of what you have done. the power of michelle obama is clearly more than her, you know? she doesn't stand as strong as she does in what could be considered an awkward body, you know? as powerful and clear and grounded. and it's so great that you've created this book to tell this incredible story. i'm wondering, did she know all of this history before your unearthing it? >> some of it was new to her.
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a lot of it was new to her. she knew -- we had written an article in "the new york times" about -- [inaudible] and that was the first time that she had heard of them or her mother. this was her mother's line. she did know and her family had long known or suspected that there was white ancestry. that was not, um, that was something they always thought. they didn't know the particulars, like many people don't know the particulars. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> just like to thank you again for the writing of the book, and a quick comment. the evidence i would suggest evidence that i would refer to are the laws that are on the books against mixed marriages, if you will, would suggest to
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you that this is manager that was a very -- that this was something that was a very common occurrence that was happening way back then, otherwise there would not have been a need for the laws that you have on the books all over the place trying to prevent such things from occurring. it's very common. >> this is not my area of expertise, but there are people, legal scholars in particular, who have looked at relationships that were real relationships as in people living as husband and wife and even white men trying to pass on property and, um, possessions to family and struggling to do that, you know, through the courts. so i think there was certainly some of that, i don't know.
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>> just a comment, actually to one of the very first slave codes was -- and i believe a 1670 law in virginia to prevent cohabitation a man of african descent and women of european descent precisely because the future of slavery was not what it would become at that point. there was tremendous fluidity, there was a lot of unity based on the experience of indentured servants and early enslaved africans that effectively produced a lot of interracial, um, what would have been cohabitation or to some extent marriage at the time. in other words, you're precisely right. it was so much a problem that that early, um, as slavery
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evolved into a very rigid system, um, of control, um, it already people of like mind, of shared experience found be each other, and it mattered little that one was of african ancestry or european ancestry. so that problem goes back to the very -- and it's not a problem, let me rephrase that. that expression of humanity goes back to the very beginning. well, if there are not any other questions -- >> looks like someone -- >> oh, sure. please, raise your voice because c-span needs to hear your voice, and so they won't hear you if you're not at a microphone, but we'll take the question from the middle. >> do you know if michelle obama -- [inaudible] >> i'll repeat the question. do you know if michelle obama ever met the two women, jewel and joan, before?
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>> no, she's talking about melvinia. two people. there was a man -- the question was, has michelle obama, did she ever meet the two women before they died, and she did not. >> i wanted to follow up on a question that was raised earlier. what has been the first lady's response to this book? in press accounts her position on the writing of this book, which has been a very public thing, "the new york times" has stood behind it, and jodi kantor has been sort of a part of a moment of sort of exploring michelle obama, so it's not as if she doesn't know. so press accounts suggest that she has not fully embraced this investigation. and so i wonder now that the book's out, the story's in many, the critics have weighed in, you're on stage at the schomburg
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center for research and black culture -- [laughter] has she, has she called you? have you received an e-mail? a telegram? [laughter] >> i can tell you that the first lady doesn't often call or e-mail reporters, that i know for sure. she, she has a policy of not participating in books, and that's a blanket policy. which is sad for all of us who are writing them. during the process i met with members of her staff to kind of update them as i went along, and before the book came out i gave copies to her staff, and she has also seen the book. what she thinks, i don't know. >> well, it strikes me that given your chops as an investigate i have journalist -- investigative journalist, you will find out. [laughter] [applause]
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>> for more information visit the author's web site, rachel swarns.com. >> what are you reading this summer? booktv wants to know. >> i'm chuck todd with nbc news. i've got five books in my queue, if you will. i read about 60% of the time on my ipad and about 40% of the time actually hard copies. let me start with my nonfiction this summer. during the last break, over winter break, i read a book on fdr and thomas dewey, the election in 1944. it was by david jordan. well, there's another one that just came out by stanley weintraub called "final victory," it's about the same campaign. i'm obsessed with this for a number of reasons, but why it may be interesting for political junkies in today's time period, when you read about thomas dewey, you see a lot of mitt romney. the good, the bad with, all the issues that we're talking, that
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you see being talked about mitt romney, you see pop up when you, when you read these books about thomas dewey, particularly that campaign in '44. forget the campaign in '48, but the campaign in '44 as well. so that new one i'm working on. i'm also finally getting to another nonfiction book that i've been meaning to read for a long time. it's about a friend of mine by don peck, he wrote a book called "pinched." and it's about the great recession. and it is chronicling sort of how it's culturally changing us. it's not just in the pocketbooks, but sort of what kind of long-term change is taking place in many places around the country, talking about a white male underclass is one of his thesises in there. but it is, it's a good way, and i'm thinking about making it required reading, frankly, for a lot of my folks internally, but i think every politician ought to read this and understand because it really sort of, i
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think, explains as well as anybody the chronic pessimism that's out there. we see it in all the polls, but that's something, you know, why is it that we're so pessimistic about the future? we don't have this optimism anymore. we always talk about the importance of optimism from our presidential candidates, but there is just a pall of pessimism. and it's not necessarily translating in the benefit, frankly, of one party or the other. it's been sitting on us, and this great recession really did it. look, we've gone through this before as a country. it takes time to get o out of these things, and that's why i think "pinched" is a book folks ought to read. my fiction books that i'm doing, i'm, of course, reading daniel silva's new book, he's married to a colleague of mine here, but you've got to love his books, they're all good. "fallen angel," it's historical fiction, that's what i love. i'll admit it's taken me time, the stephen king book "11